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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
Yes, a ton of Old Dominion fans were hacked off when the Monarchs' recent home basketball game with Middle Tennessee State wasn't broadcast on traditional TV. And I still believe, as I wrote a day later, that Conference USA officials made a mistake in not featuring one of the best games of the season on cable or over-the-air television.
But I was surprised to learn that the game was watched by more than 395,000 viewers while being streamed on Facebook Live by the Stadium TV network. Nearly 25,000 more have watched the replay.
ODU athletic director Wood Selig noted that the game drew more viewers than watched the C-USA football championship game between Florida Atlantic and North Texas. Granted, that game, played at noon on a Saturday during Christmas shopping season, had a particularly low rating, at just 255,000 households on ESPN2. It was ninth among the championship games televised that day.
The American Athletic Conference (3.4 million on ABC) and Mid-American Conference (652,000 on ESPN) drew far larger numbers for their championship games.
So 395,000 is a pretty good number for a Thursday night basketball game. That's about a third of what a typical ACC game will draw on ESPN or broadcast networks. And it appears that it's not unusually high for Facebook broadcasts, either. Richmond's home game with VCU last month drew 577,000 Facebook viewers.
I watched a replay of the Facebook broadcast and was impressed not only with the technical quality and the work of the crew calling the game, but also that it was interactive.
Comments from people watching were continuously streamed, and there were no advertisements, thus providing plenty of air time to fill during timeouts. There were also Instagram posts from fans and interviews with ODU officials.
In the long run, says Selig, "I think Facebook will deliver considerably more viewers for our programming than over the air can and will. It will be a different fan, more casual and social. I think it's a good move for our league to be with Facebook now and into the future."
I agree. For a league with limited TV options, this is a creative way to carve out a niche audience. But C-USA should also televise the league's best games on cable or over the air for traditional fans. It's smart to reach out to a new audience, but not at the expense of the old.
VCU's NCAA streak in danger
VCU has gone to the NCAA tournament seven straight seasons - tied with North Carolina and Cincinnati with the nation's seventh longest such streak. But the run is in considerable peril. VCU is 15-10 and has stumbled twice against Atlantic 10 and city rival Richmond.
Although the Rams have played a difficult nonconference schedule, with losses to Virginia, Marquette and Seton Hall, they're not getting much love in the NCAA RPI. VCU is No. 119 and will have to win the A-10 championship to go to the NCAA tournament again.
A down year is understandable for a team that lost eight players from last season.
"We got a lot of new faces. We've got a lot of new, young guys," Mike Rhoades, who is VCU's third coach in the last four seasons, recently told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "It's a long season. You have some tough moments."
The A-10 also could have a bleak NCAA tournament hopes. After sending at least three teams each of the last 10 seasons, the league might have just one bid this season. Rhode Island (No. 5 in the RPI) will make it, and if URI wins the A-10 tournament, only No. 44 St. Bonaventure appears to have even a shot at an at-large bid.
Tony Bennett deserves a raise
I generally don't advocate for coaches already making millions of dollars to make even more. There's already too much money in college sports.
Louisville's Rick Pitino made $7.76 million last season, an absolutely crazy salary for a guy under whose watch the Cards got embroiled in so many scandals that he was fired.
But clearly, U.Va.'s Tony Bennett is underpaid compared to his peers. Bennett will make $2.43 million this season (not including bonuses), less than many other ACC coaches, including Virginia Tech's Buzz Williams, who makes $2.6 million.
I'm not picking on Buzz. He's done phenomenally well rebuilding the Hokies, and Tech did much to enhance its NCAA tournament resume by upsetting U.Va. 61-60 in OT on Saturday. But what Bennett has done at U.Va. is remarkable. As Williams said Saturday night, Bennett will be in the Basketball Hall of Fame before his coaching career is over.
He's taken the Cavs to the NCAA tournament five of the last six years, including the Elite Eight in 2016 and Sweet Sixteen in 2014. The Cavs are 23-2, ranked No. 1 nationally and have all but sewn up the ACC regular-season title.
And he's done it without a hint of scandal by recruiting blue-collar players who come to U.Va. having already accepted Bennett's five pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. The biblically-based pillars, which he adopted from his dad, who coached him at Wisconsin-Green Bay, are on the wall of U.Va.'s locker room.
Bennett's contract has already been renegotiated twice, most recently May 2015, according to the Roanoke Times. If I were U.Va. athletic director Carla Williams, I'd be thinking about renegotiating again.
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